“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow”

“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow” ~ Charlotte Brontë

I don’t think I was alone in feeling a tad panicky in the run up to Christmas. As I mentioned in my last post, my other half and I hosted Christmas for the first time. Whilst a lot of fun, the preparations – the decorations, the present-buying, the wrapping, the cooking, not to mention the last-minute cleaning – were overwhelming at times. I had lists and lists of lists and my Ocado order (booked months in advance) was updated on an almost daily basis with an extra pint of milk or an extra tin of biscuits, just in case….Of course there was far too much food (we’re still working our way through the chocolate biscuits) and a great time was had by all, but I’m sure I’ll be fretting again when December rolls around!

Weighed down by my festive stresses, I didn’t get around to writing about the link between worry and sleep disruption, as I’d intended. But, as they say, better late than never….

Whether it’s agonising about cooking your Christmas dinner, pondering what to buy your best mate for Christmas, or bigger worries concerning your career or finances, anxiety has a big impact on the quantity and quality of our sleep:

  • The Sun newspaper reported on 16 December 2010 that sleep problems are more common during the festive season because people worry about buying presents, seeing relatives and Christmas finances. Read the full article by clicking here.
  • A 2010 study by Slumberland showed that nearly three-quarters of British workers are struggling to get a full night’s sleep because of work worries. In a survey of 3,000 adults, 69% said that work problems make it difficult to sleep. And even when we do drop off to sleep, the survey revealed that one in three dreams about work at least twice a week. The survey also showed that 39% wake up at least once during the night fretting about their careers. To read more, click here.
  • On 5 October 2010, the Mirror newspaper reported that adults lose on average 68 minutes’ sleep a night worrying about money, according to a study commission by Boots and the Tony Ferguson Weightloss Programme.  You can read the full article by clicking here.

And it’s not only us mere mortals who are kept awake at night fretting; A-listers are suffering too. In October last year it was reported that Rihanna struggles to sleep because she’s constantly thinking about her work.

Despite my pre-Christmas anxieties, I found ways to wind down and sleep in the run up to Christmas. Here’s some ideas that work for me, give them a go when you’re feeling stressed:

  • If you find yourself dwelling on worries when you go to bed, try writing them down before you hit sack. This exercise helps to prevent problems from keeping my mind active at night when I should be sleeping.
  • If you’re prone to waking in the night with worries on your mind, keep a notepad and pen by your bed – then if you do wake in the night with a problem on your mind, you can write it down and go back to sleep.
  • Try to keep your bedroom tidy and clutter-free. Piles of paperwork and unwashed clothes aren’t conducive to a restful night’s sleep and can add to your anxiety.
  • Remove your clock, alarm clock or mobile phone from sight – clock-watching during the night will only remind you that you’re awake and increase your anxiety.
  • Don’t forget to follow your usual, relaxing, bedtime routine – or if you don’t already have one, create one. What you do in the final moments of your day can really help to prepare you for sleep. For me, this means spending the last few minutes of every day – sometimes 10 minutes, sometimes half an hour – in bed with a light novel or magazine (nothing too engaging or stimulating otherwise I’ll never put it down!) whilst listening to the gentle, soothing sounds of Classic FM.
  • Breathing exercises in bed can help to induce sleep when you’re feeling stressed. The NightWave Sleep Assistant guides you in a session of deep breathing whilst you lay comfortably in bed (read my review of this product – COMING SOON).

Until next time, sleep well! x

Product review: Lumie Bodyclock Classic

Welcome to my fourth product review. Every few weeks I will be testing and reviewing a sleep-related product. This time it is the Lumie Bodyclock Classic daylight alarm clock.

The Bodyclock Classic - not pretty but pretty good at getting me out of bed!

The last couple of months have been full of activity with the opening of We Love Sleep’s new Sleep Solutions Centre in Sheffield, generating lots of interest (check out this brilliant piece in the Yorkshire Post newspaper – “Silent night – the art of a good night’s sleep”), and keeping me busy. But, I’m back with you, and bursting to tell you about a product that could have you bouncing out of bed, even on dark winter mornings.

If you’re anything like me, getting up in the dark – particularly when it’s cold and miserable outside – is a struggle. My new rural location means that all I see is inky black when my alarm jolts me out of sleep (there are no street lamps out here in the sticks!). Then it takes me at least an hour after rolling out of bed to shake off my morning grogginess and grumpiness. So, when I was given an opportunity to test one of Lumie’s daylight alarm clocks, I jumped at the chance.

There are four daylight alarm clocks within the range, varying in price from £58 for the basic model (the Bodyclock Starter), up to £145 for the top-of-the-range model (the Bodyclock Elite). I tested one of the mid-range models, the Bodyclock Classic, priced £78. The other mid-range option is the Bodyclock Advanced, priced at £98.

All four alarm clocks offer the same unique feature – they wake you by emitting a powerful light that gently eases you from sleep. Simply set the alarm for the time you want to wake up and the lamp will gradually illuminate prior to that time. The idea is that as the light gets brighter, your body is fooled into believing that it’s sunrise and accordingly reduces production of sleep hormones like melatonin and kick-starts levels of those that help you get up and go like cortisol. So, in simple terms, you’ll find it easier to get up.

The alarm clocks use a special daylight bulb knows as a pure light full spectrum bulb, which emits a whiter light than conventional light bulbs to mimic natural sunlight. It can also help Seasonal Affective Disorder and winter blues sufferers cope with dark winter mornings.

The light is incredibly bright. But despite this I wasn’t certain that it would wake me from my slumber – I’m a very deep sleeper, you see, and have been known to sleep through the most unbearable alarms, much to my other half’s annoyance. Lumie have thoughtfully provided a back-up beeper on their daylight alarm clocks, though, so if you’re not roused after the “sunrise” has reached its maximum brighness, this isn’t a problem. And, unlike some conventional alarms, the sound isn’t jarring – it’s more of a gentle bleeping sound.

My other half and I have been testing the Bodyclock Classic for the last eight mornings and we’ve had some of the easiest wake-ups in a long time. After only night two, my other half requisitioned it to his side of the bed on the grounds that he gets up five minutes sooner than me, so I have extra time to come round before getting out of bed. Hmmm.

Perhaps because of this, on most mornings the light hasn’t been enough on its own to wake me up. However, when the beeper does sound I wake easily – there’s no nasty shock that conventional alarms give you – and I feel more alert and refreshed on waking than usual. My other half, meanwhile, enjoys the full benefit of waking naturally with the light and says, simply: “it’s so much nicer than waking up feeling like you’ve been slapped around the face!”

All four daylight alarm clocks also feature a sunset function. The light gradually fades to darkness, helping you to wind down and drift off to sleep. There’s also the option to use the alarm clocks as a simple bedside lamp or reading light too.

The Bodyclock Classic also has an AM/ FM radio function – although due to my rural location this couldn’t actually pick up any stations! For what is otherwise an innovative piece of kit, I’m surprised that it’s lacking more advanced technology. There’s no DAB digital radio, for example, and, unlike the two more advanced alarm clocks in the range that have the benefit of a digital display, the Bodyclock Classic has a clunky manual clock and awkward buttons. It seems strange for such an ingenious product to be so old-fashioned technologically. But, perhaps if that’s an issue for you, you pay up for one of the more advanced models, where you can also get an SD card reader to play your MP3, white noise setting, security light and various sounds to help you fall asleep and wake up, amongst other things.

My other complaint is the look of the product. It lacks style and I imagine that some people might be put off by this.

However, ultimately, this is an inspired product that eases the struggle of getting up in the dark, and helps you to wake up feeling more refreshed, alert and ready to get on with your day.

All four Lumie daylight alarm clocks, including the Bodyclock Classic, are available from We Love Sleep.

Milk & Honey

©iStockphoto.com/TheBiggles

I’m not talking about the cocktail bar in Soho, London. Oh no, I’m talking about something far more exciting: the sweet, creamy bedtime drink! Yes folks, I really know how to live dangerously!

A warm milky drink is often touted as a soothing, sleep-enhancing remedy. It’s not just an old wives’ tale; there’s science behind it. Milk contains tryptophan. The intake of tryptophan has a calming and sedative effect on the body, which helps to promote restful sleep.

Drinking milk neat doesn’t appeal to me, but add a drizzle of honey and my sweet-tooth is happy. Plus, the honey encourages sleepiness too. In 2006 researchers at the University of Manchester discovered that glucose can switch off the brain cells that normally keep us awake and alert. Hence, why we often feel sleepy after eating a big meal. (To learn more about this research, check out the New Scientist article “Why we need a siesta after dinner”).

All this science is new to me, too. But it helps to explain why a mug of frothy milk and honey has been one of my favourite bedtime drinks over the last couple of years. I used to drink it occasionally because I liked the sweet taste. Now I know that it’s helping me to get a great night’s sleep too.

For the past week or so I’ve been indulging in this warm, sweet, milky treat. I’ve been using semi-skimmed milk, to avoid packing on the pounds, and adding a generous drizzle of Springwell honey, from Essex. Yum. It’s so tasty and satisfying and comforting. It certainly helps me to prepare for retiring to bed, and combined with a great book and Classic FM, I’m so relaxed I’m practically comatose by the time the lights go out.

‘Til next time, sleep well….

Musical pillows – are they singing you to sleep?

Looks like an angel but is she actually listening to swedish death metal?

A good friend has a sleep problem: Her husband! I should explain. It’s not her husband per se, but his habit of listening to the radio as he falls asleep. It’s a tricky conundrum: listening to the radio has been part of his bedtime routine for years, but my sleepy friend simply can’t get used to it.

Occasionally, my other half and I encounter a similar problem. Almost every night we’ll go to bed together. And almost every night we’ll spend maybe 10 – 30 minutes reading and listening to music in bed before going to sleep. It’s a nice little routine we’ve formulated – and it’s all as a result of this blog, so I’m taking all the credit for it! Every now and then, though, one of us wants to stay up later to read/listen to music, and in doing so prevents, or at least hinders, the other’s decent into dreamy sleep.

There may be a solution. Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more about musical pillows – basically, pillows with an integrated speaker and headphone jack for plugging into your iPod or radio – that play your music just for you. So, you can drift off to sleep listening to your favourite tracks through your pillow, without disturbing your bed-mate. It’s a clever idea, although I’m not sure if I’m prepared to give up my super-soft silk pillow….

If you’ve got a musical pillow, I’d love to hear your thoughts – do you like it? Does it help you to fall asleep? Is it comfortable?

My perfect bedtime playlist

I’ve been converted to Classic FM. Over the last few weeks the radio station has been doing a splendid job of sending me off to sleep with its gentle, soothing sounds. Plus, I’ve realised that I can combine two of my favourite pastimes – reading and listening to music – before I go to sleep. I’m now actively looking forward to the end of the day so that I can go to bed and enjoy some relaxation-time before dozing off…..does that make me a little bit sad, I wonder? Probably more than a little bit sad, actually.

Whilst I have a new, unexpected, love of Classic FM (at bedtime anyway), I can’t help but wonder what my perfect bedtime playlist would consist of.  It requires some careful consideration, but as a starting point, the following songs spring to mind – it’s almost as if they were made for drifting off to sleep:

♫  Cold Water Music – Aim

♫  The Killing Moon – Nouvelle Vague

♫  Tonight – Lykke Li

♫  Here’s Looking At You, Kid – The Gaslight Anthem

♫  Tap At My Window – Laura Marling

♫  Playground Love – Air

♫  Asleep On A Sunbeam – Belle & Sebastian

♫  Do You Realize?? – The Flaming Lips

Let me know what you think. Don’t be shy, tell me who sings you to sleep at night.

Boozing and snoozing

Party time! Don't be surprised if you're tired and grouchy the day after though....

I’ve really embraced this assignment and I’ve had a lot of fun! (For those of you who are confused, let me explain: A couple of weeks ago I announced that I would be testing the impact of certain foods and drinks on my sleep quality, commencing with alcohol.)

I started conservatively with a glass of fruity Spanish red (Torre de Rejas Reserva Bodegas Lopez Mercier, La Mancha, 2003) on the first Friday and Saturday nights of my experiment. Then I really stepped things up….One glass of pink champagne, and one-too-many glasses of the sommelier’s choice of white and red, at Michel Roux Jr.’s Le Gavroche with friends last Wednesday was a real treat. On Thursday, I enjoyed several glasses of the house white at The Slaughtered Lamb pub in Clerkenwell to celebrate a friend’s last days of freedom before marriage. Add to that half a beautiful bottle of Mas de Daumas Gassax Rose Frizant NV (from Joseph Barnes Wines in Saffron Walden), savoured on Saturday night with my other half.  Oh, and I can’t forget the sweet Lady Gray tea, flavoured with a generous measure of amaretto, that I sipped on Sunday evening. In short, I’ve consumed a lot of booze!

So, what have I discovered about the impact of my alcohol-fueled fun on my sleep? Well, it’s all a bit hazy……

Just kidding. Even when I was struggling to walk in my M&S heels, I was focused on my goal: to reveal the real effect of alcohol on sleep. In just a few days of assessment, I have made the following not-so-astonishing discoveries:

  • Sedating: Alcohol is a wonderful relaxant and, at the end of a hectic week, there’s little that can beat the instant calming effect of a beautiful glass of wine.
  • Sleep inducing: I had no problems dropping off to sleep after my evening drinking. In fact, staying awake would have posed greater difficulty.
  • Sleep disrupting? Sometimes….

According to sleep experts, alcohol disturbs normal sleep patterns and often leads to a night of broken sleep, making it harder to get up the next day. The message, therefore, is lay off the booze as it can cause sleep problems. This message is too simplistic for my liking….surely giving up alcohol is a little extreme??!!

On the nights I over-indulged, then yes, I admit I didn’t have the most restful nights’ sleep. Whilst I nodded off almost instantaneously, the nights were punctuated with trips to the fridge for water and visits to the loo.  And yes, the morning after I wanted nothing more than to hibernate from the world and recover with a “fat” Coke.

On the other hand, a small glass of wine in the evening, together with a glass of water, or maybe followed by herbal tea before bed, had no noticeable impact on my sleep. I slept as usual and noticed no change in alertness the next day.

My discoveries lead me to this conclusion: “enjoy alcohol in moderation”, said whilst sitting on the fence!

I’m not advocating including alcohol as part of your bedtime routine; there are many alternative ways to relax before bedtime and, in my opinion, relying on alcohol to unwind is no good at all. But always living by rigid rules is no good either and I don’t see the need to give up alcohol. It’s all about moderation. So, if you have a cold beer or a glass of crisp sauvignon blanc a few nights a week, enjoy it, and don’t worry about it.

I know I won’t be. For now though, I think it’s time to give my liver a rest……For my next project I’ll be testing the sleep-enhancing properties of warm milk. Yummy!

You can find drinking limits and other useful information on the Drinkaware website. It goes without saying, but please don’t drink and drive, people.

Image: George Stojkovic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sleep tip: Listen to music at bedtime for a restful night’s sleep

When I was 16 and taking my GCSE exams, I’d listen to the same three U2 songs, from their album The Joshua Tree, the night before each of my exams. Just 10 minutes of music helped me to wind down after an evening of frantic cramming.

“Listen to calming music before bed” is an often repeated sleep tip because it can help you to relax, leading to better quality sleep. In a 2005 study in Taiwan, researchers proved that listening to about 45 minutes of relaxing music before bedtime can improve your sleep. According to the BBC news website, the study participants who listened to music before sleep reported “a 35% improvement in their sleep, including better and longer night-time sleep and less dysfunction during the day”. For the full BBC news article, click here.

Since my teens, music hasn’t really featured in my bedtime routine. Unless you count falling asleep in a taxi on the way home from a bar or club, that is. Well, that is all about to change. I’ve bought myself a very stylish little radio for the bedroom (any excuse for a bit of shopping!) and last night – for the very first time ever – tuned into Classic FM.

I’ve never really listened to classical music before. I’ve always thought it was for posh people and intellectuals, privately educated, harp-playing sorts; not for people like me who went to a rubbish Comprehensive School and learned to play the recorder, very badly, in a room that smelled faintly of sick. Last night I discovered classical music. I learned that it can be tranquil and soothing; you can get lost in it, if that doesn’t sound too clichéd. Apart from the occasional chatter disrupting the music, I found my introduction to Classic FM enjoyable and very relaxing. It really helped me to settle down to sleep.

Now for something very clichéd: Last night, I also learned that you don’t have to be a certain “type” to like or dislike or appreciate something, so why restrict yourself?

I really should stop writing now before I start spouting nonsense about the meaning of life, but before I go, here – a la Jerry Springer – is my final thought:

To keep a happy relationship happy, discuss your bedtime routine with your bed-mate before making any changes that might affect them – listening to half an hour of Classic FM in bed might send them crazy rather than to sleep. And we all know that a grumpy partner does not make for a restful night’s sleep….

Is watching TV before bed a bad idea?

Don't let Jack Bauer terrorise your sleep routine! Credit: sunnyd_57’s photostream Flickr/Creative Commons

Watching TV is a common pastime in the evenings. Yet many sleep experts would tell you that watching TV before bed is a bad idea if you want to get a good night’s sleep. Turn the TV, and all other electrical devices (computer, radio, computer games), off at least two hours before sleep time, they say. Or should it be three hours before? Ultimately, I think, it depends on:

  1. what you’re watching immediately before you go to bed and how you’re affected by it; and
  2. whether you’re able to control (i.e. limit) your TV viewing so that it does not encroach on your sleeping time.

Taking each point in turn:

1. What you’re watching and how you’re affected by it

If you watch a violent or tense TV programme before bed and you’re sensitive to these images, it follows that you’re unlikely to be relaxed enough to sleep immediately afterwards. For me, watching 24 immediately before bed is a no-no, as I’m too wired to fall asleep.

Similarly, if you’re watching a TV programme that you find very stimulating (for me, this might be Question Time or The West Wing) just before bed, then it’s likely that you’ll find it difficult to sleep as your brain will be too active. You’ll need to do something relaxing and peaceful afterwards, to slow down your mental activity in preparation for sleep.

Having said this, in my experience watching TV can help to calm an overactive mind at the end of a busy day and, for some, it may be an important cue for bedtime.  In my days as a city lawyer I often used TV (and the odd glass of wine too) as a way to switch off before bed. And my other half regularly spends the last 15 minutes or so of the day watching the music channels to relax before bed.

2. Controlling your evening TV viewing

A study carried out by the BBC’s Newsround programme (as reported on the BBC Breakfast show on 19 February 2010) concluded that modern technology keeps our children up at night, preventing them from getting a good nights’ sleep. The study suggested that children miss out on sleep because they stay up watching TV or playing on computer games.

It’s not just children who stay up too late watching TV when they should be sleeping. A study published in the Journal Sleep by Drs. Mathias Basner and David F. Dinges in June 2009 (“Dubious Bargain: Trading Sleep for Leno and Letterman”) found that many Americans let television dictate when they go to sleep. They concluded that “giving up some TV viewing in the evening should be possible to reduce chronic sleep debt and promote adequate sleep in those who need it”.

This is interesting. Just the other night I accidentally started watching The Bodyguard on TV. I’ve seen it many times before, but despite my good intentions for an early night, suddenly I was hooked and I ended up watching it until it’s conclusion (an hour after I’d planned to go to bed).

If this regularly happens to you and your sleep is suffering, it’s time to alter your bedtime routine to make it more sleep-friendly. Set yourself a cut-off time for TV viewing (any must-see viewing after this cut-off point could be recorded using Sky Plus or your DVD recorder) and do something less engaging and relaxing instead.

A word on watching TV in bed

Again, many sleep experts warn against watching TV in bed. They advise us to reserve our beds for sleeping and romance only, so that we associate our beds and bedrooms with falling asleep. This rigid approach may be necessary for some, but if watching a little TV in bed helps you to relax and drop off to sleep, don’t worry. Do be careful to turn the TV off when you start dozing though, otherwise it’s likely to disturb your sleep during the night.

Ultimately, I think, it’s about personal choice and common sense – enjoy your evening viewing if it helps you to relax but don’t let your TV take precedence over your precious sleep.

Reading Grazia: good; reading sleep studies: bad

Credit: Foxtongue Flickr/Creative Commons

What am I talking about? My latest bedtime routine discovery.

I love reading, always have. Particularly in the evening though, curled up and comfy in my pjs in bed, and – in an ideal world – with the soothing pitter patter of rain drops against the glass of my bedroom window. Reading is very relaxing for me and, now that I come to think about it, reading a chapter or two (or, sometimes, just a page or two) at bedtime often sends my eyelids into free fall.

What I’ve come to understand over the past few weeks, though, is that not all reading material is good for bedtime perusal. Perfect bedtime reading for me is a light novel or magazine (Grazia being a particular favourite on a Tuesday night) – essentially, something that helps me to unwind and my mind to switch off. The magazine supplements from the weekend newspapers are great, as they’re easy to dip in and out of – when I go to bed feeling alert, the longer features are just the right length before I start nodding off, whilst the tit-bits of information and gossip scattered throughout are ideal when I need just a few minutes of quiet time before sleep.

At bedtime, I can’t read anything that engages my mind too much.  Cookery magazines and books are chief sleep-stealers. I find them too stimulating. Instead of sleeping, I find myself planning menus. Books about sleep and sleep problems are just as bad, as I become too engaged in the information they impart. I’m still thinking about the various methods of solving sleep issues when I should be sleeping!

So, for other bedtime readers out there, the next time you’re having trouble dropping off to sleep, consider if your reading matter may be to blame.

Using lavender for better quality sleep

It seems that the belief that the scent of lavender enhances sleep is more than just an old wives tale. I’ve been doing my research and just look what I’ve found:

  • A study at the University of Southampton in 2005 found that sleeping in a lavender-scented room improved sleep quality by 20%.
  • A study at Wesleyan University in 2004 found that the scent of lavender essential oil increased slow-wave, or deep sleep, resulting in the participants feeling more energetic and alert the next morning.

For almost two weeks I have been conducting my own mini experiment by sleeping in a lavender-scented room. I began my test using the power of Google – a quick search suggests that it’s best to dilute lavender essential oil, as using it in its pure form can cause skin irritation (it’s probably best to do a spot test before using it in any form though). Then, after emptying my bathroom cabinet of all its lotions and potions, I found a small empty plastic bottle with an atomiser lurking at the back (I knew it would come in handy for something one day!), filled it with water and a few – about 15 – drops of lavender essential oil. Ta da, my very own lavender room spray!

For the last 13 days I have been generously spritzing my bedroom with my homemade air freshener before bedtime. I realised by night two that that, actually, I really don’t like the smell of lavender. My other half, meanwhile, does like the scent and yesterday commented that he had started to associate the smell with going to sleep. Oh dear.

Whilst neither of us noticeably experienced improved sleep quality, our test highlighted that scent can be used as part of a sleep routine as a cue to promote sleep. Next, we will be testing some of the lesser-known essential oils for promoting sleep – such as chamomile or jasmine – until we find a scent that works for us both!

If you like the scent of lavender, here are some alternative ways of using it during your bedtime routine (don’t tell my other half though!):

  • Place lavender-scented sleep stones and/or lavender flower heads in your bedroom for a longer lasting aroma of lavender.
  • Encourage someone lovely to give you a bedtime massage using diluted lavender essential oil.
  • Use a lavender-scented body soak in a warm bath for a relaxing nighttime treat.
  • Inhale the aroma of lavender oil – dab the oil on a cotton wool ball or tissue and breathe in the scent.
  • Use a lavender-scented moisturiser or body lotion.